Friday, May 1, 2009

Paris eyes make me see more clearly.

It might sound odd, given the world's art heritage stored at the Louvre, that I spent time there writing. It was after we passed the artist trying to paint in the Grand Gallery that it dawned upon me that the Louvre is a place to create as well as to view that which has been created.

It was after the Venus de Milo. After the Mona Lisa (which by the way is disappointingly small, which is probably why Leonardo choose it to carry around with him anyway) and after a room full of Rembrandts. Does one actually cry the first time one sees a work of art one has waited her whole life to see? Yes, she does. Quite unexpectedly too. When the object is priceless, one doesn't need to waste time coveting them. It is only to be appreciated.

The poor fellow trying to paint had positioned himself to copy a 16th century Italian master. A sign placed above his canvas stating quite clearly that he was NOT to be photographed. He looked the part, beret planted on his intense head, paint-smudged smock covering his bedraggled clothing, brushes in hand. Though not an art critic, I thought his work was progressing well.

This did not stop at least three groups of giggling girls armed with digital cameras from stopping behind and trying. Flashes went off. The girls moved closer to his shoulder, shrill voices rising. He waved off one group. The next one he shouted at. The third group he leaped up and began to gesture wildly. leaving no doubt that he would punch the next girl who clicked. It brought a museum guard and a goodly bit of what I am sure were choice French words, all lost on me. It was small theater among grand masters.

We had spread out because it's exceedingly difficult to keep four people together while spending the day inside this world cathedral of creativity. I tried my best to avoid the gaggles – 100 Japanese tourists armed with cameras and a museum guide are loud! Mid afternoon I found myself at a quiet, second floor window of the 14 - 17th century French paintings with a surprising view of the Eiffel Tower, the Arch de Triumphe and the gates of the Louvre, as well as the famous glass pyramid. The Louvre must plan on people contemplating life here, because the windows come equipped with window seats. I sat.

“Today,” I wrote, “I have nearly forgotten that I am in Paris, so immersed am I in the centuries of history through which I have wandered. I have been in ancient Egypt and Greece. I have been on the streets of Rome, the canals of Venice, the byways of London, in the shadows of light and darkness along the waterways of Holland. I have been deep in the fjords of ice and snow in Norway, on the side streets of St. Petersburg, and in the grand salons of European royalty. I have come to Paris and found the entire existence of mankind.”

Outside, the sky that I will now always call “Paris Blue,” glows. The walkways coming and going from the Louvre are full of people. But inside, I sit, pondering the moment. Since I never expected to be here, I can only explain it this way. Life is a series of moments. Both big and small things that added together make life. Artists know this. Writers who finally discover this become real writers. New eyesight is a gift.

Le seul véritable voyage ... ce ne serait pas d’aller vers de nouveaux paysages, mais d’avoir d’autres yeux, de voir l’univers avec les yeux d’un autre, de cent autres, de voir les cent univers que chacun d’eux voit …

In English:
The only true voyage of discovery … would be not to visit new landscapes, but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees.

— Marcel Proust
'La Prisonnière', À la recherche du temps perdu (1913-27).

I re-entered Paris at 6:00 pm, seeing this great city differently too. And I have brought my Paris eyes home with me.

©2009 Jan Johnson Wondra